The popularity of the Meter Jam campaign, which aims to get back at taxi and auto rickshaw drivers for refusing fares, has nearly trebled in the last two days.
More than 12,500 citizens have pledged to boycott the use of autos and cabs on August 12, signing up on Facebook, Twitter, the official website meterjam.com, and even through text messages.
Abhilash Krishnan, Jaidev Rupani and Rachana Brar - the three advertising professionals who launched the campaign online five days ago - are already trying to organise volunteer carpool services for D-day.
“A number of supporters have offered to drop and pick people in their localities on Thursday. We are assessing the data area-wise to create a carpooling tool,” said Krishnan, whose Goregaon-based digital ad agency has taken up the Meter Jam campaign as part of their corporate social responsibility activities.
“We will need to do background checks of the car volunteers for security.”
On Facebook, a number of ‘jammers’ have suggested having volunteers standing at prominent points in the city to promote the campaign on Thursday.
Some have even suggested that all participants wear black.
Meanwhile, taxi and auto union leaders insist that citizens are insensitive to the problems of drivers.
“The campaign is politically motivated, launched by people who want to tarnish the image of drivers,” said A.L. Quadros, president of the Bombay Taximen’s Union, who pointed out that the law permits drivers to refuse fares if they have valid reasons.
“Drivers may not want to get stuck in areas with heavy traffic, and since the government removed around 1,000 taxi stands from the city, parking is a problem too,” he said.
Thampy Kurian, working president of Mumbai Autorickshaw Taximen’s Union, complained that drivers tend to work long hours in the day with little time for rest.
“People think of us as machines, not humans. However, some drivers tend to refuse passengers roughly, and I admit they need training on how to be polite,” said Kurian.
Quadros stressed the problem of excessive demand and scant supply of taxis and autos, with the number of taxis reducing from 58,000 to 48,000 since 1997.
“Children of retired taxi drivers are educated and no longer want to stick to the profession. While migrants want to take up driving, the government no longer gives them licenses easily,” he said.
Though he condemns the strike, Quadros is unfased.
“Even if 50,000 people boycott us on August 12, our business will not be affected. So, I wish them all the best,” he added.